After a series of reschedulings and several changes in main events, UFC 196 is finally upon us. It’s not a stacked card by any means - the opening three fights are mostly fluff - but it features a womens title match that fans have been wanting to see, and the McGregor-Diaz match is as interesting of a styles clash as it is an exercise is trash talk.
McGregor was originally expected to face lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos in what would be the UFC’s second champion vs. champion match. When dos Anjos pulled out due to a toe injury sustained in his final training session, the UFC scrambled to put together a replacement. Fighters began calling him out like he ate the last slice of pizza and didn’t even chip in. Two years ago there was a solid argument to be made that the UFC was protecting Conor, refusing to put him in front of someone who could take him down, but here we have a featherweight champ originally expected to fight for a championship belt at lightweight and still stepping in a weight class above THAT. In a sport where fighters dehydrate themselves to maintain height and distance advantages, two fighters willing to step outside of their respective divisions is exceptionally rare.
The escalation in words between McGregor and Diaz has completely overshadowed the womens title match preceding it, a fight that is every bit as storied, just more subdued in its presentation. Holly Holm, the Ronda Rousey killer, returns to defend her title against the woman who was all but ready to hang up the gloves after the company refused to acknowledge her third bid for a shot against former champ Rousey.
Let’s look at the matches.
Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz
“You beat up a bunch of midgets” - Nate DiazMidget may be an overstatement, but there’s no denying that McGregor has been able to utilize his significant reach advantage in the featherweight division to much success. He floats on the edge of his range and lances out with precision timing. He also utilizes an interesting mix of side and body kicks to soften his opponents, but much of this success is because it’s difficult to close distance against him. McGregor has an official reach of 74 inches. Max Holloway and Marcus Brimage clock in at 71, Chad Mendes at 66, and Dennis Siver and Jose Aldo sit at 70.
Diaz, however, is at 76, making this the first time McGregor has been at a disadvantage in this area. Against a lesser opponent, this may not matter but Nate Diaz is a skilled boxer with excellent technique. He showed tremendous patience in his last fight and makes for an elusive, frustrating opponent. Diaz also brings a solid enough jiu-jitsu game to be able to give McGregor fits on the ground if it comes to that.
I’ve picked against McGregor several times and I’ve been wrong each time. There’s no point in breaking the streak now.
Prediction: Nate Diaz wins by third round TKO.
Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate
Holm surprised the MMA world with her thorough dismantling of Ronda Rousey at UFC 193. She clobbered the former champ for a solid round two rounds before punctuating the win with a head kick KO for the ages.
She steps back in the cage tonight to face former Strikeforce champ Miesha Tate, the woman who has been chasing UFC gold since the day she was signed. For Holm this is the fight that will define whether or not she’s a legit champion. For Tate it’s likely her last major push for gold. She has already been beaten by Rousey twice and there’s no reason to expect a third match to be much different. She’s got that Urijah Faber quality about her. She’s tough, she’s got a brawling, grind you down kind of fighting style, and she has always come up short in championship situations.
Tate has been vocally displeased with her treatment over the past year as well as the hit that she has taken as a result of the Reebok deal. In many ways she already had one foot out of the door when she got the call to challenge Holm. Now she has one more shot.
Though Holm put on a show for the ages against an opponent that seemed unstoppable, Holm herself has been hit or miss since joining the UFC. Her first two fights in the promotion were decision wins, only one of which was solid. Holm picked up a split decision victory over Raquel Pennington in her UFC debut, but it was a tough fight that could have gone to either competitor. Tate’s boxing may not be world class like Holm’s but she can take a punch, probably a bit better than her perennial rival in Rousey, and she’s excellent at closing off distance and dragging the fight to the ground. This is where Tate should have the most success - ground and pounding from the top.
Tate’s strong points may play well against Holm’s weaknesses if she’s patient and doesn’t tire out and that’s why we’re going with her.
Prediction: Miesha Tate wins via decision.
Gian Villante vs. Ilir Latifi
Prediction: Ilir Latifi
looks majestic as fuck wins by first round knockout.
Corey Anderson vs. Tom Lawlor
Though this fight was likely inevitable, it still feels a bit strange. Lawlor has secured a reputation as a solid mid card guy, and Anderson is still developing. Both fighters feel like they are currently churning around amidst the lower end of a light heavyweight division that is largely directionless outside of the top five. Cormier, Jones, Johnson, and Gus are the money fights right now, and the number five spot is usually reserved for whoever else can manage a comparably large win streak. Bader is always lurking around in the background as well, just to make sure nobody gets in uninvited. The rest of the division doesn’t get much promotion.
Lawlor and Anderson have both won two straight. Lawlor is a bit of a brawler and Anderson goes to his wrestling base more often than Lawlor. They’re both competent enough at what they do to make this one an affair that could go either way, but I like Anderson’s chances on the ground and against the cage here. Look for Anderson to grind one out all the way to the end.
Prediction: Corey Anderson wins by unanimous decision.
Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Amanda Nunes is back from an injury layoff. Many say she’s the next big contender for the womens bantamweight title, and she’ll get the opportunity to show why against Valentina Shevchenko, a Russian kickboxer turned mma fighter. Shevchenko will be a tough opponent for the number four ranked Nunes. She has a solid background and is excellent in the clinch.
However, Nunes is one of the strongest finishers in mixed martial arts. For better or worse only one of her fights has gone to a decision, the rest have mostly been showcases of her of her knockout power and improved technique.
It’s a tough pick, but Nunes is more experienced all around and has a much longer history of getting it done. Shevchenko could easily shock the world with an upset, but she’s still a growing talent in the sport. Look for Nunes to finish this one quickly and violently.
Prediction: Amanda Nunes wins by first round TKO.